Lectures to Young Men on
Various Important Subjects
Henry Ward Beecher, 1849
"Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see — but know that for all these things, God will bring you to judgment!" Ecclesiastes 11:9
I am to venture the delicate task of reprehension, always unwelcome — but peculiarly offensive upon topics of public popular amusement. I am anxious, in the beginning, to put myself right with the young. If I satisfy myself, Christian men, and the sober community — and do not satisfy the young — then my success will be like a physician's, whose prescriptions please himself, and the relations, and do good to everybody except the patient — he dies.
Allow me, first of all, to satisfy you that I am not meddling with matters which do not concern me. This is the impression which the patrons and partners of criminal amusements, study to make upon your minds. They represent our duty to be in the church — taking care of doctrines, and of our own members. When more than this is attempted; when we speak a word for you who are not church-members — we are met with the surly answer, "Why do you meddle with things which do not concern you? If you do not enjoy these pleasures — why do you molest those who do? May not men do as they please in a free country, without being hung up in a gibbet of public remark?"
It is conveniently forgotten, I suppose, that in a free country we have the same right to criticize popular amusements — which others have to enjoy them. Indeed, you and I both know, that in coffee-house circles, and in convivial nocturnal feasts — that the Church is regarded as little better than a spectacled old beldam, whose impertinent eyes are spying everybody's business but her own; and who, too old or too homely to be tempted herself, with compulsory virtue — pouts at the joyous dalliances of the young and mirthful. Religion is called a nun, sable with gloomy vestments; and the Church a cloister, where ignorance is deemed innocence, and which sends out querulous reprehensions of a world, which it knows nothing about, and has professedly abandoned!
This all sounds very pretty; and is only defective, in not being at all true! The Church is not a cloister, nor her members recluses, nor are our censures of vice intermeddling.
I hope it is not bigotry to have eyes and ears! I hope it is not fanaticism, in the use of these excellent senses, for us to judge that throwing one's heels higher than their head a-dancing, is not exactly the way to teach virtue to our daughters! Oh! no; we are told, that Christians ought to think that men who are kings and dukes and philosophers on the stage — are virtuous men, even if they gamble all night, and are drunk all day; and if men are so used to comedy, that their life becomes a perpetual farce on morality — we have no right to censure this acting!
Are we meddlers, who only seek the good of our own families, and of our own community where we live and expect to die? Or are they, who wander up and down without ties of social connection, and without aim, except of money to be gathered off from men's vices?
I am anxious to put all religious men in their right position before you; and in this controversy between them and the mirthful world, to show you the facts upon both sides.
A floating population of theater actors, without permission, blow the trumpet for all our youth to flock to their banners! Are they related to them? — are they concerned in the welfare of our town? — do they live among us? — do they bear any part of our burdens? — do they care for our substantial citizens? We grade our streets, build our schools, support all our municipal laws, and the young men are ours; our sons, our brothers, our clerks, or apprentices. They are living in our houses, our stores, our shops — and we are their guardians, and take care of them in health, and watch them in sickness.
Yet every vagabond who floats in here, swears and swaggers, as if they were all his! And when they offer to corrupt all these youth, we paying them round sums of money for it. And when we finally get courage to say that we had rather not; that industry and honesty are better than expert knavery — they turn upon us in great indignation with, "Why don't you mind your own business — what are you meddling with our affairs for?"
I will suppose a case: With much pains-taking, I have saved enough money to buy a little garden-spot. I put all around it a good fence — I put the spade into it and mellow the soil deeply; I go to the nursery and pick out choice fruit trees — I send abroad and select the best seeds of the rarest vegetables; and so, my garden thrives. I know every inch of it, for I have watered every inch with sweat.
One morning I am awakened by a mixed sound of sawing, digging, and delving; and looking out, I see a dozen men at work in my garden. I run down and find one man sawing out a huge hole in the fence. "My dear sir, what are you doing?" "Oh, this high fence is very troublesome to climb over; I am fixing an easier way for folks to get in." Another man cutting down several choice trees, and is putting in new trees. "Sir, what are you doing that for?" "Oh, this kind don't suit me; I like a new kind." One man is digging up my beans — to plant cockles; another is rooting up my strawberries — to put in pursley; and another is destroying my currants, and gooseberries, and raspberries — to plant mustard and dill. At last, I lose all patience, and cry out, "Well, gentlemen, this will never do! I will never tolerate this abominable imposition; you are ruining my garden!"
One of them says, "You old hypocritical bigot! do mind your business, and let us enjoy ourselves. Take care of your house, and do not pry into our pleasures."
Fellow-citizens! I own that no man could so invade your garden; but men are allowed thus to invade our town, and destroy our children! You will let them evade your laws, to fleece and demoralize you; and you sit down under their railing, as though you were the intruders! This is just as if the man, who drives a thief out of his house, ought to ask the rascal's pardon for interfering with his little plans of pleasure and profit!
Every parent has a right — every citizen and every minister has the same right to expose traps — which men have to set to harm them! We have the same right to prevent mischiefs — which men have to plot them! We have the same right to attack vice — which vice has to attack virtue! We have a better right to save our sons and brothers, and companions — than artful men have to destroy them.
The necessity of amusement, is admitted on all hands. There is an appetite of the eye, of the ear, and of every sense — for which God has provided the material. Gaiety of every degree, this side of juvenile levity, is wholesome to the body, to the mind, and to the morals.
NATURE is a vast repository of manly enjoyments. The magnitude of God's works, is not less admirable than its exhilarating beauty. The crudest forms — have something of beauty. The ruggedest mountains — are graced with charm. The very pins, and rivets, and clasps of nature — are attractive by qualities of beauty more than is necessary for mere utility. The sun could go down without gorgeous clouds; evening could advance without its evanescent brilliance; trees might have flourished without symmetry; flowers might have existed without fragrance, and fruit without flavor.
When I have journeyed through forests — where ten thousand shrubs and vines exist without apparent use; through meadows — whose undulations exhibit innumerable sheets of flowers, and absolutely dazzling the eye with their prodigality of beauty — beauty, not a tenth of which is ever seen by man — I have said, "It is plain that God is himself passionately fond of beauty, and the earth is his garden, as an acre is man's."
God has made us like Himself, to be pleased by the universal beauty of the world. He has made provision in nature, in society, and in the family — for amusement and exhilaration enough to fill the heart with the perpetual sunshine of delight!
Upon this broad earth, gemmed with flowers, scented with fragrances, brilliant in colors, vocal with echoing and re-echoing melody — I take my stand against all demoralizing pleasure. Is it not enough that our Father's house is so full of dear delights — that we must wander prodigal to the swine-herd for husks, and to the slough for drink? When the trees of God's heritage bend over our head, and solicit our hand to pluck the golden fruitage — must we still go in search of the apples of Sodom — with outside fair, and inside ashes?
Men shall crowd to the Circus to hear clowns, and see rare feats of horsemanship. But a bird may poise beneath the very sun, or flying downward, swoop from the high Heaven; then flit with graceful ease here and there, pouring liquid song as if it were a perennial fountain of sound — no man cares for that!
Upon the stage of life, the most interesting plays are performing every day. Others are raising their youthful forms, to begin the drama of their existence. The world of society is as full of exciting interest — as nature is full of beauty. The great dramatic throng of life is hustling and bustling along — the wise, the fool, the clown, the miser, the bereaved, the broken-hearted. Life mingles before us, smiles and tears, sighs and laughter, joy and gloom — as the spring mingles the winter-storm and summer-sunshine.
To this vast Theater which God has built — where more unusual plays are seen than ever an author wrote — man seldom cares to come. When God dramatizes, when nations act, or all the human kind conspire to educe the vast catastrophe — men sleep and snore, and let the busy scene go on — unobserved and unthought upon. They turn from all its varied magnificence — to hunt out some candle-lighted hole and gaze at drunken ranters, or cry at the piteous virtue of harlots in distress.
It is my object then, not to withdraw the young from pleasure — but from unworthy pleasures; not to lessen their enjoyments — but to increase them, by rejecting the counterfeit and the vile!
Of gambling, I have already sufficiently spoken. Of cock-fighting, dog-baiting, and prize-fights, I need to speak but little. These are the desperate excitements of debauched men; but no man becomes desperately criminal, until he has been genteelly criminal. No one spreads his sail upon such waters, at first. These brutal amusements are but the gulf into which flow all the streams of criminal pleasures; and they who embark upon the river — are sailing toward the gulf! Wretches who have waded all the depths of iniquity, and burned every passion to the socket — find in rage and blows and blood — the only stimulus of which they are susceptible. You are training yourselves to be just such wretches, if you are exhausting your passions in illicit indulgences!
As it is impossible to analyze, separately, each wicked amusement offered to the young, I am compelled to select two, each the representative of a clan. Thus, the reasonings applied to the amusement of horse-racing — apply equally well to all violent amusements which congregate indolent and dissipated men, by ministering intense excitement. The reasonings applied to the Theater, with some modifications — apply to the Circus, to promiscuous balls, to night-reveling, bacchanalian feasts, and to other similar indulgences.
Many, who are not in danger, may be inclined to turn from these pages; they live in rural districts, in villages, or towns, and are out of the reach of jockeys, and actors, and gamblers. This is the very reason why you should read. We are such a migratory, restless people, that our home is usually everywhere but at home; and almost every young man makes annual, or biennial visits to famous cities; conveying produce to market, or purchasing wares and goods. It is at such times, that the young are in extreme danger; for they are particularly anxious, at such times, to appear at their full age. A young man is ashamed, in a great hotel, to seem naive and not to know the mysteries of the bar and of the town. They put on a very remarkable air, which is meant for ease; they affect profusion of expense; they think it fit for a gentleman, to know all that certain other city-gentlemen seem proud of knowing.
As sober citizens are not found lounging at Hotels; and the gentlemanly part of the traveling community are usually retiring, modest, and unnoticeable — the young are left to come in contact chiefly with a very flashy class of men who swarm about city-Restaurants and Hotels — swollen clerks, gay sportsmen, epicures, and rich, green youth, seasoning. These are the most numerous class which engage the attention of the young. They bustle in the sitting room, or crowd the bar, assume the chief seats at the table, and play the petty lord in a manner so brilliant, as altogether to dazzle our poor country boy, who mourns at his deficient education, at the poverty of his rural cursings, and the meagerness of those illicit pleasures, which he formerly nibbled at with mouse-like stealth; and he sighs for these riper accomplishments.
Besides, it is well known, that large commercial establishments have, residing at such hotels, well appointed clerks to draw customers to their counter. It is their business to make your acquaintance, to fish out the probable condition of your funds, to sweeten your temper with delicate tit-bits of pleasure; to take you to the Theater, and a little further on, if need be; to draw you in to a generous supper, and initiate you to the high life of men whose whole life is only the varied phases of lust — gastronomical or amorous.
Besides these, there lurk in such places, lynx-eyed procurers; men who have an interest in your appetites; who look upon a young man, with some money, just as a butcher looks upon a bullock — a thing of so many pounds of beef, and a hide! If you have nothing — they will have nothing to do with you; if you have means — they undertake to supply you with the disposition to use them.
They know the city,
they know its haunts,
they know its secret doors,
they know its blind passages,
they know its spicy pleasures,
they know its racy vices —
clear down to the mud-slime of the very bottom!
Meanwhile, the usual restraint of home cast off,
the youth feels that he is unknown, and may do what he chooses — unexposed.
There is, moreover, an intense curiosity to see many things of which
he has long ago heard and wondered; and it is the very art and education of
vice — to make itself attractive. It comes. . .
with garlands of roses about its brow,
with nectar in its goblet, and
with love upon its tongue.
If you have, beforehand, no settled opinions as to what is right and what is wrong; if your judgment is now, for the first time, to be formed upon the propriety of your actions; if you are not controlled by settled moral principles — there is scarcely a chance for your purity!
For this purpose, then, I desire to discuss these things,
that you may settle your opinions and principles before temptation
assails you! As a ship is built upon the dry shore, which afterwards
is to dare the storm and brave the sea — so would I build you staunch and
strong, before you be launched abroad upon life.
I. Horse-racing.This amusement justifies its existence by the plea of Utility. We will examine it upon its own ground. Who are the patrons of the race? — farmers? — laborers? — men who are practically the most interested in the improvement of their families? The unerring instinct of self-interest would lead these men to patronize the race-course, if its utility were real. It is notorious that these are not the patrons of racing.
It is sustained by two classes of men — gamblers, and jaded rich men. In England, and in our own country, where the races are liveliest, they owe their existence entirely to the extraordinary excitement which they afford to dissipation, or to cloyed appetites. For those industrial purposes for which the horse is chiefly valuable, for roadsters, and cart-horses, what do the patrons of the race care? Their whole anxiety is centered upon winning cups and stakes; and that is incomparably the best blood, which will run the longest space in the shortest time. The points required for this are not, and never will be, the points for substantial service. New England, where racing is unknown, is to this day the place where the horse exists in the finest qualities. Except for the sole purpose of racing, a New England horse brings a higher price than any other.
The other class of patrons who sustain a race course, are mere gamblers. As crows to a cornfield, or vultures to their prey; as flies to summer-sweet — so to the annual races, flow the whole tribe of gamesters and pleasure-lovers! It is the Jerusalem of wicked men; and there the tribes go up, like Israel of old — but for a far different sacrifice. No form of social abomination is unknown or unpracticed. To ruin men for the sake of watching horses run; to sacrifice conscience and purity for the sake of good bones and muscles in a beast; this is paying a little too much for good brutes. Indeed, the shameless immorality, the perpetual and growing dishonesty, the almost immeasurable secret villainy — has alarmed and disgusted many stalwart racers, who, having no objection to some evil, are appalled at the very ocean of depravity which rolls before them.
I extract the words of one of the leading sportsmen of England. "How many fine domains have been shared among these hosts of rapacious sharks, during the last two hundred years; and, unless the system is altered, how many more are doomed to fall into the same gulf! For, we lament to say, the evil has increased: all heretofore has been 'Tarts and Cheese-cakes' compared to the villainous proceedings of the last twenty years on the English race course."
I will drop this barbarous amusement, with a few questions.
What have you, young men, to do with the race course, admitting it to be what it claims — a school for horses? Are you particularly interested in that branch of learning?
Is it safe to accustom yourselves to such tremendous excitement as that of racing?
Is the invariable company of such places of a kind which you ought to be found in? — will races make you more moral? — more industrious? — more careful? — more economical? — more trustworthy?
You who have attended them, what advice would you give a young man, a younger brother for instance, who should seriously ask if he had better attend?
I digress to say one word to women. When a race course was opened at Cincinnati, ladies would not attend it; when one was opened here, ladies would not attend it. For very good reasons — they were Ladies. If it is said that they attend the Races at the South and in England, I reply, that they do a great many other things which you would not choose to do.
Roman ladies could see hundreds of gladiators stab
and hack each other — could you? Spanish ladies can see savage
bull-fights — would you? It is possible for a modest woman to
countenance very questionable practices — where the customs of society and
the universal public opinion approve them. But no woman can set herself
against public opinion, in favor of an immoral sport, without being herself
immoral; for, if worse is lacking, it is immorality enough for a woman to
put herself where her reputation will lose its pure luster.
II. The Theater.Desperate efforts are made, year by year, to resuscitate this expiring evil. Its claims are put forth with vehemence. Let us examine them.
The theater cultivates the taste. Let the appeal be to facts. Let the roll of English literature be explored — our Poets, Romancers, Historians, Essayists, Critics, and Divines — and for what part of their memorable writings are we indebted to the Drama? If we except one period of our literature, the claim is wholly groundless; and at this day, the truth is so opposite to the claim, that extravagance, affectation, and rant — are proverbially denominated theatrical. If agriculture should attempt to supersede the admirable implements of farming now in use, by the primitive plough or sharpened sticks — it would not be more absurd than to advocate that clumsy machine of literature, the Theater — by the side of the popular lecture, the pulpit, and the press. It is not congenial to our age, or necessities. Its day is gone by — it is in its senility, as might be suspected, from the weakness of the garrulous apologies which it puts forth.
The theater is a school of morals. Yes, doubtless! So the guillotine is defended on the plea of humanity. Inquisitors declare their racks and torture-beds to be the instruments of love, affectionately admonishing the fallen of the error of their ways. The slave-trade has been defended on the plea of humanity — and slavery is now defended for its mercies.
But, let me settle these impudent pretensions to Theater-virtue, by the home thrust of a few plain questions.
Will any of you who have been to Theaters, please to tell me whether virtue ever received important education from the gallery of Theaters?
Will you tell me whether 'the Pit' is a place where an ordinarily modest man would love to seat his children?
Was ever a Theater known where a prayer at the opening, and a prayer at the close, would not be tormentingly discordant?
How does it happen, that in a school for morals, the teachers never learn their own lessons?
Would you allow a son or daughter to associate alone with actors or actresses?
Do these men who promote virtue so zealously when acting, take any part in public moral enterprises, when their stage dresses are off?
Which would surprise you most, to see actors steadily at Church — or to see holy Christians steadily at a Theater? Would not both strike you as singular incongruities?
What is the reason that loose and abandoned men abhor religion in a Church — and love it so much in a Theater?
Since the Theater is the handmaid of virtue, why are drinking houses so necessary to its neighborhood — yet so offensive to Churches? The trustees of the Tremont Theater in Boston, publicly protested against an order of council forbidding liquor to be sold on the premises, on the ground that it was impossible to support the Theater without it.
I am told that Christians do attend the Theaters. Then I will tell them the story of the Ancients. A holy man reproached the devil for stealing a young man who was found at the Theater. He promptly replied, "I found him on my premises, and took him."
But, it is said, if Christians would take Theaters in hand, instead of abandoning them to loose men — they might become the handmaids of religion.
The Church has had an intimate acquaintance with the Theater for eighteen hundred years. During that period, every available agent for the diffusion of morality has been earnestly tried. The result is, that familiarity has bred contempt and abhorrence. If, after so long and thorough an acquaintance, the Church stands the mortal enemy of Theaters, the testimony is conclusive. It is the evidence of generations speaking by the most sober, thinking, and honest men.
Let not this vagabond prostitute pollute any longer the precincts of the Church, with impudent proposals of alliance. When the Church needs an alliance — it will not look for it in the kennel. Ah! what a blissful scene would that be — the Church and Theater imparadised in each other's arms! What a sweet conjunction would be made, could we build our Churches so as to preach in the morning, and play in theaters by night! And how melting it would be, beyond the love of David and Jonathan, to see minister and actor in loving embrace; one slaying Satan by direct thrusts of plain preaching — and the other sucking his very life out, by the enchantment of the Drama! To this millennial scene of Church and Theater, I only suggest a single improvement: that the vestry be enlarged to a ring for a Circus, when not wanted for prayer-meetings; that the Sunday-school room should be furnished with poker-tables, and useful texts of Scripture might
be printed on the cards, for the pious meditations of gamblers during the intervals of play and worship.
"But if these places are put down, men will go to worse ones." Where will they find worse ones? Are those who go to the Theater, the Circus, the Race-course, the men who abstain from worse places? It is notorious that the crowd of theater-goers are vomited up from these worse places! It is notorious that the Theater is the door to all the sinks of iniquity. It is through this infamous place — that the young learn to love those wicked associates and practices to which, else, they would have been strangers. Half the victims of the gallows and of the Penitentiary will tell you, that these schools for morals were to them the gate of debauchery, the porch of pollution, the vestibule of the very house of Death!
It is too true — the Drama makes one acquainted with human life, and with nature. There is scarcely an evil incident to human life, which may not be fully learned at the Theater. Here nourishes every variety of wit — ridicule of sacred things, burlesques of religion, and immoral double-entendres. Nowhere can so much of this vile lore be learned, in so short a time, as at the Theater. There one learns how pleasant a thing is vice: immorality is glamorized; license is prospered; and the young come away alive to the glorious liberty of violence and lust.
"But the stage is not the only place where human nature is learned." In the Boxes the young may make the acquaintance of those who abhor home and domestic quiet; of those who glory in profusion and obtrusive display; of those who expend all, and more than their earnings, upon mirthful clothes and jewelry; of those who think it no harm to borrow their money without permission, from their employer's till; of those who despise vulgar appetite — but affect polished and genteel immorality.
Or, he may go to 'the Pit' and learn the whole round of villain-life, from masters in the art. He may sit down among thieves, blood-loving scoundrels, swindlers, broken-down immoral men — the coarse, the vulgar, the debauched, the inhuman, the infernal.
Or, if still more of human nature is wished, he can learn yet more; for the Theater epitomizes every degree of corruption. Let the virtuous young scholar go to the Gallery, and learn there, decency, modesty, and refinement — among the quarreling, drunken, ogling, mincing, brutal women of the brothel! Ah! there is no place like the Theater for learning human nature! A young man can gather up more experimental knowledge here in a week, than elsewhere in a year.
But I wonder that the Drama should ever confess the fact; and yet more, that it should lustily plead in self-defense, that Theaters teach men so much of human nature! Here are brilliant taverns — to teach the young to drink; here are mirthful companions — to undo in half an hour the scruples formed by an education of years; here are pimps of pleasure — to delude the brain with bewildering sophisms of immorality; here is pleasure, all flushed in its gayest, boldest, most fascinating forms; and few there be who can resist its wiles, and fewer yet who can yield to them and escape ruin.
If you would pervert the taste — go to the Theater.
If you would imbibe false views — go to the Theater.
If you would efface as speedily as possible all qualms of conscience — go to the Theater.
If you would put yourself irreconcilably against the spirit of virtue and religion — go to the Theater.
If you would be infected with each particular vice in the catalogue of Depravity — go to the Theater.
Let parents, who wish to make their children weary of home and quiet domestic enjoyments — take them to the Theater.
If it be desirable for the young to loathe industry and didactic reading, and burn for fierce excitements, and seek them by stealth or through pilferings, if need be — then send them to the Theater.
It is notorious that the bill of fare at these temples of pleasure is made up to the taste of the baser appetites; that base comedy, and baser farce, running into absolute obscenity — are the only means of filling a house. Theaters which should exhibit nothing but the classic Drama, would exhibit it to empty seats. They must be corrupt, to live; and those who attend them will be corrupted!
Let me turn your attention to several reasons which should incline every young man to forswear such criminal amusements.
I. You ought not to countenance these things, because they will waste your TIME.I do not mean that they waste only the time consumed while you are within them; but they make you waste your time afterwards. You will go once, and wish to go again; you will go twice, and seek it a third time; you will go a third time — a fourth; and whenever the bill flames, you will be seized with a restlessness and craving to go, until the appetite will become a passion. You will then waste your nights: your mornings being heavy, melancholy, and stupid, you will waste them. Your next day will be confused and crowded: your duties poorly executed or deferred; habits of arrant shiftlessness will ensue; and day by day, industry will grow tiresome — and leisure sweeter, until you are a waster of time — an idle man; and if not a rogue, you will be a fortunate exception.
II. You ought not to countenance these things, because they will waste your MONEY.Young gentlemen! Squandering is as shameful as hoarding. Any fool can throw away money, and any fool can lock up money; but it is a wise man, who, neither parsimonious nor profuse, steers the middle course of generous economy and frugal liberality.
A young man, at first, thinks that all he spends at such places, is the ticket-price of the Theater, or the small bet on the races; and this he knows is not much. But this is certainly not the whole bill — nor half.
First, you pay your entrance. But there are a thousand petty luxuries which one must not neglect, or custom will call him stingy. You must buy your cigars, and your friend's. You must buy your juleps, and treat in your turn. You must occasionally wait on your lady, and she must be comforted with divers confections. You cannot go to such places in homely working dress — new and costlier clothes must be bought. All your companions have jewelry — you will want a ring, or a seal, or a golden watch, or an ebony cane, a silver toothpick, or quizzing glass. Thus, item presses upon item, and in the year a long bill runs up of money spent for little trifles.
But if all this money could buy you off from the yet worse effects, the bargain would not be so dear. But compare, if you please, this mode of expenditure — with the principle of your ordinary expense. In all ordinary and business transactions, you get an equivalent for your money — either food for support, or clothes for comfort, or permanent property. But when a young man has spent one or two hundred dollars for the Theater, Circus, Races, Balls, and reveling — what has he to show for it at the end of the year? Nothing at all good, and much that is bad! You sink your money as really as if you threw it into the sea! And you do it in such a way that you form habits of careless expense. You lose all sense of the value of property; and when a man sees no value in property, he will see no necessity for labor; and when he is lazy, and careless of property — he will be dishonest. Thus, a habit which seems innocent — the habit of trifling with property — often degenerates to worthlessness, indolence, and roguery.
III. You ought not to countenance these things, because such pleasures are incompatible with your ordinary pursuits.The very way to ruin an honest business, is to be ashamed of it, or to put alongside of it something which a man loves better. There can be no industrial calling so exciting as the Theater, the Circus, and the Races. If you wish to make your real business very dull and detestable — visit such places. After the glare of the Theater has dazzled your eyes — your blacksmith-shop will look smuttier than ever it did before. After you have seen stalwart heroes pounding their antagonists, you will find it a dull business to pound iron; and a valiant apprentice who has seen such smooth glances of love, and such rapturous kissing of hands — will hate to dirty his heroic fingers with mortar. If a man had a homely — but most useful wife — patient, kind, intelligent, hopeful in sorrow, and cheerful in prosperity — but yet very plain, very homely — would he be wise to bring under his roof a fascinating and artful beauty? Would the contrast, and her deceitful wiles — make him love his own wife better? Young gentlemen, your wives are your industrial callings? These theater beauties, are artful adulteresses, dressed up on purpose to purloin your affections. Let no man be led to commit adultery with a Theater harlot.
IV. Another reason why you should let alone these deceitful pleasures is, that they will engage you in BAD COMPANY.To the Theater, the Ball, the Circus, the Race-course, the gaming-table — resort all the idle, the dissipated, the rogues, the immoral, the epicures, the gluttons, the artful harlots, the immodest, the worthless, the refuse. When you go, you will not, at first, take introduction to them all — but to those nearest like yourself; by them, the way will be opened to others. And a very great evil has befallen a young man, when wicked men feel that they have a right to his acquaintance. When I see a gambler slapping a young mechanic on the back; or a lecherous scoundrel suffusing a young man's ear by a story at which, despite his blushes, he yet laughs; I know the youth has been guilty of criminal indiscretion, or these men could not approach him thus. That is a brave and strong heart, which can stand up pure in a company of artful wretches.
When wicked men mean to seduce a young man, so tremendous are the odds in favor of practiced experience against innocence, that there is not one chance in a thousand, if the young man lets them approach him. Let every young man remember that he carries, by nature, a heart of passions just such as bad men have. With youth, they slumber; but temptation can wake them, bad men can influence them; they know the road, they know how to serenade the heart; how to raise the sash, and elope with each passion. There is but one resource for innocence among men or women; and that is, an embargo upon all commerce of bad men. Bar the window! — bolt the door! — nor answer their calls, if they charm ever so wisely! In no other way can you be safe.
So well am I assured of the power of bad men to seduce the erring purity of man, that I pronounce it next to impossible for man or woman to escape — if they permit bad men to approach and dally with them. Oh! there is more than magic in temptation, when it beams down upon the heart of man, like the sun upon a morass! At the noontide-hour of purity, the mists shall rise and wreath a thousand fantastic forms of delusion; and a sudden freak of passion, a single gleam of the imagination, one sudden rush of the capricious heart — and the resistance of years may be prostrated in a moment — the heart entered by the besieging enemy, its rooms sought out, and every lovely affection rudely seized by the invader's lust, and given to ravishment and to ruin!
V. Putting together in one class, all gamblers, circus-men, actors and racing jockeys — I pronounce them to be men who live off of society without returning any useful equivalent for their support.At the most lenient sentence, they are a band of mirthful idlers. They do not throw one cent into the stock of public good. They do not make shoes, or hats, or houses, or harness, or anything else that is useful. A stableman is useful; he performs a necessary office. A cobbler is useful; somebody must act his part. A street-sweeper, a chimney-sweep, the seller of old clothes, a tinker, a boot-black — all these men are respectable; for though their callings are very humble, they are founded on the real needs of society. The bread which such men eat, is the representation of what they have done for society; not the bread of idleness — but of usefulness.
But what do pleasure-mongers do for a living? — what do they invent? — what do they make? — what do they repair? — what do they for the mind, for the body, for man, or child, or beast? The dog that gnaws a discarded bone, pays for it in barking at a thief. The cat that purrs its gratitude for a morsel of meat, will clear our house of mice. But what do we get in return for supporting whole loads of play-mongers, and circus-clowns? They eat, they drink, they giggle, they grimace, they strut in gaudy clothes — and what else? They have not afforded even useful amusement; they are professional laugh-makers; their trade is comical or tragical buffoonery — the trade of tickling men. We do not feel any need of them, before they come; and when they leave, the only effects resulting from their visits are — unruly boys, aping apprentices, and unsteady workmen.
Now, upon principles of mere political economy, is it wise to support a growing class of imprudent idlers? If at the top of society, the government should erect a class of favored citizens, and pamper their idleness with fat pensions — the indignation of the whole community would break out against such privileged aristocrats. But we have, at the bottom of society, a set of wandering, jesting, dancing, fiddling aristocrats, whom we support for the sake of their capers, grins, and caricatures upon life — and no one seems to think this an evil!
VI. But even this is cheap and wise, compared with the evil which I shall mention. If these morality-teachers could guarantee us against all evil from their doings, we might pay their support and think it a cheap bargain. The direct and necessary effect of their pursuit, however, is to demoralize men!
Those who defend Theaters would scorn to admit actors into their friendship. It is within the knowledge of all, that men, who thus cater for public pleasure, are excluded from respectable society. The general fact is not altered by the exceptions — and honorable exceptions there are. But where there is one exception — how many thousand immoral wretches are there, whose acting is but a means of sensual indulgence?
In the support of gamblers, circus-men, actors, and racing-jockeys — an industrious people are guilty of supporting mere mischief-makers — men whose very heart is diseased, and whose sores exhale contagion to all around them. We pay moral assassins to stab the purity of our children. We warn our sons of temptation — and yet plant the seeds which shall bristle with all the spikes and thorns of the worst temptation.
If to this strong language, you answer, that these men are generous and jovial, that their very business is to please, that they do not mean to do harm — I reply, that I do not charge them with trying to produce immorality — but with pursuing a course which produces it, whether they try or not. An evil example does harm by its own liberty, without asking permission. Moral disease, like the plague, is contagious, whether the patient wishes it or not. A vile man infects his children — in spite of himself. Criminals make criminals, just as taint makes taint, disease makes disease, plagues make plagues. Those who run the mirthful round of pleasure — cannot help dazzling the young, confounding their habits, and perverting their morals — it is the very nature of their employment.
These demoralizing professions could not be sustained, but by the patronage of moral men. Where do the clerks, the apprentices, the dissipated, get their money which buys an entrance? From whom is that money drained, always, in every land, which supports vice? Unquestionably from the good, the laborious, the careful. The skill, the enterprise, the labor, the good morals of every nation — are always taxed for the expenses of vice. Jails are built out of honest men's earnings. Courts are supported from peaceful men's property. Penitentiaries are built by the toil of virtue. Crime never pays its own way! Vice has no hands to work. Its whole faculty is to corrupt and to waste; and good men, directly or indirectly, foot the bill!
At this time, when we are waiting in vain for the return of that bread which we wastefully cast upon the waters — some question might be asked about the economy of vice — the economy of paying for our sons' idleness; the economy of maintaining a whole lazy profession of gamblers, racers, actresses, and actors — whose errand is mischief, and luxury, and license, and giggling folly! It ought to be asked of men who groan to pay their taxes, whether they want to be taxed to pay the bills of charlatans?
It is astonishing how little the influence of those professions has been considered, which exert themselves mainly to delight the sensual feelings of men. That whole race of men, whose camp is the Theater, the Circus, or the Gaming-table, is a race whose instinct is destruction, who live to corrupt, and live off of the corruption which they make. For their support, we annually sacrifice youthful victims. Even sober Christian men, look smilingly upon the gaudy outside of these vessels of destruction; and while we see the results to be, uniformly, dissipation, idleness, dishonesty, vice and crime!
Disguise it as you will, these men of pleasure are, the world over, corrupters of youth. Upon no principle of kindness can we tolerate them; no excuse is bold enough; we can take bail from none of their weaknesses — it is not safe to have them abroad even upon excessive bail. You might as well take bail for lions, and allow scorpions to breed in our streets for a suitable license; or for a tax, indulge assassins.
Men whose life is given to evil pleasures are, to ordinary criminals, what a universal pestilence is to a local disease. They fill the air, pervade the community, and bring around every youth an atmosphere of death! Corrupters of youth have no mitigation of their baseness. Their generosity avails nothing, their knowledge nothing, their varied accomplishments nothing. These are only so many facilities for greater evil. Is a serpent less deadly, because his burnished scales shine? Shall a dove praise and court the vulture, because he has such glossy plumage? The more accomplishments an evil man has, the more dangerous is he — they are the garlands which cover up the knife with which he will stab! There is no such thing as good corrupters. You might as well talk of a mild and pleasant murder, a very lenient assassination, a fragrant stench, or a pious devil.
We denounce them; for it is our nature to loathe treacherous corruption. We have no compunction to withhold us. We mourn over a torn and bleeding lamb; but who mourns the wolf which tore it? We weep for despoiled innocence; but who sheds a tear for the savage fiend who plucks away the flower of virtue? We shudder and pray for the shrieking victim of the Inquisition; but who would spare the cruel Inquisitor, before whose shriveled form, the piteous maid implores relief in vain? Even thus, we palliate the sins of our youth; and their downfall is our sorrow: but for their destroyers, for the Corrupters of Youth, who practice the infernal chemistry of ruin, and dissolve the young heart in vice — we have neither tears, nor pleas, nor patience! We lift our heart to Him who bears the iron rod of vengeance, and pray for the appointed time of judgment.
You miscreants! Do you think that you are growing tall, and walking safely, because God has forgotten? The bolt shall yet smite you! You shall be heard as the falling of an oak in the silent forest — the vaster its growth, the more terrible its resounding downfall!
Oh! you Corrupter of Youth! I would not take your death, for all the pleasure of your guilty life, a thousand fold! You shall draw near to the shadow of death. These shall be shadows full of phantom-shapes. Images of terror shall dimly rise and beckon — the ghastly deeds of the past shall stretch out their skinny hands to push you forward! You shall not die unattended. Despair shall mock you. Agony shall tender to your parched lips, her fiery cup. Remorse shall feel for your heart, and rend it open. Good men shall breathe freer at your death, and utter thanksgiving when you are gone. Men shall place your grave-stone as a monument and testimony that a plague is stayed; no tear shall wet it, no mourner linger there! And, as borne on the blast, your guilty spirit whistles toward the gate of Hell — the hideous shrieks of those whom your hand has destroyed, shall pierce you — Hell's first welcome! In the bosom of that everlasting storm which rains perpetual misery in Hell — shall you, Corrupter of Youth, be forever hidden from our view! And may God wipe out the very thoughts of you from our memory!